Facing Abandonment

By Ken Wells - 11/01/2022


Series Three: Blog Seventy-Five

Addicts have many anxieties and fears. They grew up with holes in their souls with unmet childhood developmental needs from parents who failed to provide the fundamental emotional needs necessary. Some addicts suffered woeful negligence from physical, emotional and sexual abuse. For many their parents failed to provide necessary support because they didn’t know how. Their parents loved them but were unable to give their children which wasn’t given to them. Those addicts knew their parents loved them because they provided clothing, food, shelter, even education. However, children know they matter through parents spending sufficient amounts of time with them on the child’s terms, not the parents. When this doesn’t happen, kids figure they don’t matter rather than something is wrong with mom and dad and their priorities. Developmentally they become like a chunk of Swiss cheese with the holes. Each hole represents an unmet childhood need. Kids learn to compensate by trying to fill the hole from the outside through a cocktail of relational experience. It never works because the depth of emotional need can only be filled from within. They become like the little kid who can’t get enough sugar. Their emotional neediness becomes insatiable. Eventually they organize a dependency upon an addictive substance or process that delivers what it promises. For many, it involves a collection of addictions to assuage their fears and anxieties and to numb out what hurts.

One of the greatest fears that an addict faces is that of abandonment, physically, emotionally or both. Abandonment is like the metaphor of a pack of wolves that chases you through the woods. The pack pursues you relentlessly even though you create diversionary tactics of avoidance. Eventually, the pack corners you. Either the pack wins and consumes you with addictive behavior or you choose to face the gnashing teeth of abandonment to only realize that it is not the terrorizing force that its growl suggests.

Addicts become pleasers, workaholics, and deniers to avoid conflict. Behind their behavior is the pernicious fear of abandonment. They will do anything to avoid feeling deserted. Addiction becomes a lifelong affair to avoid abandonment. Some addicts have described their relationship to their drug of choice as a snuggly blanket that offers consistent warmth from fear and anxiety. What lurks behind every addictive high is the fear of abandonment. How to address abandonment is critical to the long term sobriety from addiction. Here are a few steps to consider:

  • Embrace that the fear of abandonment is universal. Abandonment is not just a fear that afflicts addicts. It impacts the world at large. It is a common thread of life experience. Recognizing that everyone experiences this fear helps to avoid isolation or concluding that you are particularly flawed and different from those around you. You are not! We all must face our fears of abandonment.
  • Others may dessert you but the key is to learn not to dessert yourself. This may seem obvious. Yet, simple things are not easy. It’s an automatic response for a child to subconsciously attempt to capture a parents’ attention when neglected. When a child lacks recognition for who they are they try to compensate by what they do. If the inattentiveness is chronic the child will learn to do something they hope will get their parent’s recognition to avoid abandonment. Over time they learn that who they are matters less than how they act or what they do. Essentially, they learn to abandon themselves. Overcoming the fear of abandonment requires that you learn to reclaim the importance of being and parent yourself in healthy ways. You must learn to pay attention to your genuine needs and not abandon yourself through pleasing others.
  • Listen to your triggers, don’t just run from them. Triggered with fear or lust for your drug of choice can be a gift! Put yourself out of harm’s way and take time to let the trigger talk to you about unmet needs that must be met in a healthy way. Some addicts spend much of their recovery reporting about triggers and chronic high risk behaviors, thinking that telling another addict when they have been tempted is enough. However, it is a beginning. When tempted think about the legitimate need that is represented in the trigger and endeavor to self parent by meeting the need through adult choice and interaction. Rather than abandon yourself by running from the trigger, allow the trigger to speak its truth and transform the trigger from a curse to a blessing. Practicing this skill set is a major step that avoids abandonment of self.
  • Take the people with you who abandon you. People hurt each other and abandon one another. People die. Relationships end through the passage of time, betrayal and a myriad of other reasons. It sucks to feel abandoned. Yet, it is a broken experience that is common to all. It requires skills to grieve the loss of what once was. Some people live life longing for yesterday’s experiences in order to avoid feeling abandoned. I suggest that you take the lost person or experience with you. Keep it with you in your heart. It is not necessary to live in the past. Yet, you can bring those experiences with others with you in the here and now through treasured memory. Even in the face of betrayal, you can embrace your truth and the closeness that once was and the intent you generated when others had ulterior motives. Precious memories need not be abandoned. Loved ones who are now deceased can be alive in your heart. We all live in a nanosecond of present time and then it too becomes historical. So we hold precious experience by treasuring its memory in our hearts. Learn to address abandonment by taking your precious personal intents and initiatives with you in your heart. The good in all the relationships you have ever experienced can dwell inside of you no matter what others choose to do. Take the experience of relationship with you. When you consider the power and potential that exists within, you never need be dominated by abandonment again.

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